Yellowknife residents hailing from nations across the globe may no longer see their home country’s flag flying outside City Hall on special occasions.
On Monday, councillors reviewed a draft policy that – for the first time – formalizes the city’s process for issuing proclamations and raising and lowering flags.
Many councillors said they would like the city to stop raising the flags of countries other than Canada.
Councillor Shauna Morgan acknowledged the city has raised international flags at the request of community groups with the intention of celebrating their cultural contributions to Yellowknife. However, she said, doing so has also caused “distress, confusion and hurt” to others.
“Almost every country has committed human rights abuses against its own members or others in the course of history, including our own,” she said.
“It inevitably looks like we’re taking sides.”
Morgan said she was not opposed to raising Canada’s flag at City Hall since “it’s our job to confront those wrongs,” but added it wasn’t the city’s job to weigh in on foreign policy. She recommended the city instead raise flags from community organizations.
Councillors Stacie Smith, Cynthia Mufandaedza, Julian Morse, Steve Payne, and Robin Williams agreed that would be a better way to celebrate multiculturalism in Yellowknife.
They noted residents have been upset when the city has flown flags from other countries.
In December 2018, some residents raised concern when the city’s flags were flown at half mast on the day of former US president George Bush’s funeral.
In October 2019, some took issue when the city flew Turkey’s flag on Turkish Republic Day. Residents raised the country’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and conflict with Armenia.
In October, the city agreed to a proclamation regarding Turkey’s national holiday but declined to raise the Turkish flag, NNSL reported.
‘Give us a chance to raise the flags’
Councillor Rommel Silverio, Yellowknife’s first Filipino councillor, spoke in favour of raising flags from other countries on Monday. To him, the practice represents Canada welcoming people from all over the world and celebrating their contributions.
“It’s something for people like us. If our country’s government is not stable, that’s still home for us – and to me, that’s a big thing to celebrate,” he said.
“Give us a chance to raise the flags.”
Councillor Niels Konge, who holds both Canadian and Danish passports, supported raising international flags.
“I think we can celebrate the people who are in our community and contribute to our local community with diversity,” he said. “I think that is important, that we show support of those people in where they came from.”
Mayor Rebecca Alty said flags from other countries are only flown at City Hall on specific days, like national independence days, to celebrate.
That doesn’t mean the city is agreeing with that country’s policies, she said, adding the ceremonies were “very special for those who are in attendance.”
Alty said the city could start to explain why another country’s flag was being flown on its website, to address concerns people might have. She added scrapping the practice of flying flags would also make some people unhappy.
Morgan, however, noted that after a flag-raising ceremony is over, the flag still flies at City Hall. While that might be special for some people, she said, it can be a different experience for others.
“Flags are a really powerful symbol of nationalism. That’s the whole point,” she said.
“Lots of evils have been committed in the name of nationalism, for sure.”
As the majority of councillors were not in favour of flying flags from other countries, that section will be removed from the draft bylaw.
Councillors could reconsider when they formally vote on the bylaw on January 11.
All councillors were in favour of discontinuing issuing proclamations, saying it would be more effective for community groups to raise awareness through social media.